TGO Challenge 2015 – Days 4 to 6

by backpackingbongos

You can read days 1 to 3 here.

 

Day 4 – 21 kilometres with 300 metres ascent

Day 4

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The Scarp1 was my refuge from the weather from about 4.00pm until 7.00am the following morning. It was with some relief that I poked my head out first thing and saw patches of blue sky amongst the boiling and angry sky. When I had zipped myself up the previous afternoon another Challenger was struggling with a small piece of silnylon which he was attempting to turn into a tent shape. This had been replaced by a Scarp2, the occupants being John and Sue who I had met on my 2011 crossing.

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With the skies threatening rain again I managed to pack my tent whilst dry and headed to the bothy. Hugh and Barbara who I had met on the train were there. In total 6 people had spent the night after a very wet walk in the previous evening. Most were heading towards Loch Rannoch, crossing the bridge and then following the railway track. My plan was to stay on the bothy side of the river for a couple of miles.

It turned out to be a good decision, the going was relatively easy, the river banks being grassy. Luckily I was able to walk under the railway as it crossed the river with ease (there is a pedestrian underpass) and there I met up with John and Sue and another Challenger.

What followed was possibly the grimmest section of the whole Challenge. None of us fancied trespassing on the railway, reinforced when a goods train rattled past with a loud hoot of its horn. We followed the pylons the kilometre to the edge of the forest through the boggiest bog imaginable. At one point I found myself stranded, uncertain in which direction to go, a retreat the only wise decision. A handy deer fence was electrified which put using it as a hand rail out of the question. A shoe was nearly removed from my foot by a quaking bog. All of this was done with rain hammering down, driven by a strong wind, the surrounding hills hidden from view. The world may of well been in black and white.

Once in the forest the going was much easier, a swath cut through to allow the pylons. There was even the vestiges of a narrow path in places. I lost the others after deciding to plow on straight across the river rather than following its circuitous course. My feet were soaked anyway, a wade just made them a bit cleaner.

The forest was a bit of a trudge so I was glad when I finally exited it near Bridge of Gaur. The weather changed from grey and wet to thundery showers and sunshine, the wind picking up speed. The surrounding hills sparkled under the fresh clean air before being hidden by black clouds. Darkness and light danced across the landscape.

Instead of dropping down to the hamlet I crossed open moorland and picked up the track that leads round the back of Leagag. A steady climb was cruel on tired legs.

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A large grassy area is located around the 400 metre mark, an ideal pitch and with great views to the north. Just as I was setting up the Scarp all hell broke loose. A wall of black cloud raced towards me brought on by a wind that nearly knocked me flat. The hail stung all exposed skin and the Scarp flapped like crazy as I struggled to get the pole in the sleeve. In ten minutes the squall had passed and the sun came out. This process was repeated over and over again throughout the evening and night, often leaving me worried that the Scarp and me would be blown away by a freak tornado, such was the fury of each squall. The Scarp did a very good job that night and I was glad of the security it provided.

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Day 5 – 21 kilometres with 230 metres ascent

Day 5

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As soon as a hefty shower had passed in the morning I quickly packed up in the relative calm and headed east on the track that contours the southern slopes of Leagag. A very scenic section as I dropped down to enter Rannoch forest.

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Most Challengers that I had spoken to who were heading to Kinloch Rannoch said that they were planning on following the road along the loch shore. A bit puzzling as there is a good track on the southern side that avoids most of the road walking. I eventually exited the forest near the campsite close to Carie and followed the road for the last few miles into Kinloch Rannoch. I was dismayed to see that there was a discarded energy gel packet every fifty metres or so, a constant trail of litter that led all the way into the village. I later learned via twitter that a cycling event had passed through a few days earlier. What a bunch of arses.

It was far too early to check into my hotel so I sought out the cafe in the village. Sadly it was not a cafe but a rather posh tea room sort of place. All fancy local crafts for sale and posh horsey looking women in Barbour. Chips were definitely not on the menu and I made do with an overpriced panini (you never pay £9 for a cob and coffee in the Midlands). I was very aware of my five-day stink!

I was caught in a big downpour on my way to the Loch Rannoch Hotel, passing Lou and Phillis, veterans of several Challenges and possibly the eldest on the crossing. They had already checked in and were heading out for a stroll, more energy than me.

The Loch Rannoch Hotel is an odd sort of place. A cross between a coach holiday hotel (there was a Saga coach outside) and one with faded grandeur. It was hugely overpriced for the room that I got but I was happy to be somewhere warm and dry. Reception had kindly taken in a food parcel for me and I was glad it was there when I checked in. My room and bathroom was soon full of dripping gear and I took the opportunity to wash my clothes. I caught up with a couple of Challengers in the bar before dinner and then had an early night. Surprisingly I did not sleep very well, despite a comfy bed. There was the usual hotel cacophony of creaking floorboards, loud TV’s and slamming doors.

 

Day 6 – 27.5 kilometres with 830 metres ascent

Day 6

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I headed to the local shop in the morning to stock up on sugary snacks and bread and cheese for lunch. Outside I bumped into John and Sue again. They and most others I had spoken to were heading toward Blair Atholl, it appeared that I would be on my own for a few days as I was heading for an off piste route into the Cairngorms.

A new Hydro scheme is being built in the village, looking like it will take water from the Allt Mor. A diversion had been put in place for the path up and over to Loch Errochty but I still failed to locate the start. One of the workers eventually pointed me in the right direction and I was soon climbing along the lovely old path through the woods.

The path soon gave way to open moorland and I followed a deer fence across the hill, grooves worn across the hill by countless hooves. A huge herd of red deer spotted me and made short work of the rough ground.

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It was a long and rough trudge to reach the shore of Loch Errochty and the sad ruin at Ruighe nan Saorach. It would have made a nice bothy before it fell into disrepair. Nearby was the remains of a vehicle which looks like a leftover from an early Mad Max movie.

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Progress was swift on the track along the Loch before it dropped down steeply to the dam. From a distance I could see that the gate across the dam road was shut. I was worried that it would be locked which would then mean a detour down into Trinafour and then a climb back up. Thankfully it was unlocked and I made my way across the dam. I startled a worker cleaning the brick work ready for an inspection the following day. He said that the gates may have to be locked soon as they had sadly suffered some vandalism recently.

The temperature had risen and I was finding it increasingly hot as I climbed up to and along the road towards the A9. Wet feet in the morning followed by hot tarmac made my feet sore and I developed a blister under a toe. I had to stop a couple of times to air my feet. The real fly in the ointment on this section however was the new pylons that were marching across the landscape. They were absolutely massive, giants striding across the hills.

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Part of the old A9 is now a cycle track and I followed it for a while, parallel to the busy road. At Dalnamein lodge I crossed the A9 and into the Eastern Highlands. On each of my three Challenges crossing the A9 has a certain significance. The sound of traffic soon diminished as a track took me north into the Cairngorms.

A set of ruins provided an area of short-cropped grass and an atmospheric place to pitch, even though I had to do so at a jaunty angle. The evening air was alive with the sound of moorland bird song, my favourite being the drumming of the snipe. It was late, gone 9.00pm by the time I got dinner on. My feet were very happy to be out of wet and hot trail shoes, although I was not happy with a total of three blisters. It had been a long day but I was on track for a three day solo crossing of the southern Cairngorms.

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14 Responses to “TGO Challenge 2015 – Days 4 to 6”

  1. There were several times on this Challenge when I was really glad I’d taken my Scarp!

    • I agree Robin, it saved me from having a few sleepless nights. It’s great having the knowledge that it won’t blow away whilst you sleep!

  2. Shame about the blisters, but it still all looks wonderful 🙂

  3. Awesome stuff James. The area around the Rannoch Moor can be horrendous. Some years back a bog nearly claimed me, I went in waist deep, scary stuff!

    • I bet that gave you a bit of a shock Brenda. Not gone in that deep myself, I can imagine that tough to get out of.

  4. James – you have just cost me the price of a Scarp2 – I was on the verge anyway. Great stuff and the usual inspiration.

    • Good to hear that I encouraged you to spend a bit of cash Warren. I will give you a shout when next passing through Scotlandshire.

  5. I recall looking out of the train window on my way to Corrour and thinking I wouldn’t want to walk across that stretch. Looked rather wet 🙂

  6. I just can’t help but think that all that Highland scenery would be improved by some wind farms …

    More Scarp love! Are you sure the Enan is necessary?

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